HDTV via Directv

The Reagans joined the world of the 21st century by getting set up for HD via Directv. I have been waiting for a deal from Directv before embarking, as I didn't want to drop $200 on a new HD setup and another $300 on a new HD DVR. As it turns out, we ended up getting the HD dish and receiver for free (part of being loyal NFL Sunday Ticket customers) and they dropped the lease price on the HD DVR to $200.

We pay an addition $12/month HD - $8 for the HD channels and $4 for the DVR service. Not bad.

The channel selection is pretty weak right now. We get two HDNet channels, ESPN and ESPN2, Discovery Channel, TNT, and two other apparently irrelevant channels as I can't remember them right now. But the good news is we will get NFL Sunday Ticket in HD, so we can see the Lions get their asses whupped in fine grained detail. Cool.

The HD DVR is a pretty good device. Most people complain that it's not as good as Tivo, but I never had TiVo so apparently I literally don't know what I am missing. It's better than Windows Media Center, in that the searches for programs is better and I have better control over managing my shows. I can choose to keep a set number of shows, for example, and delete the older ones.

As part of installation they replaced our old dish with one that processes HD and has two lines coming out of it. They both run to our HD HVR so we can record two shows at once or we can watch one show while we record another. Way cool.

The DVR can store 100 hours of programming, and I assume that means 100 hours of HD although I should probably look that up.

So far (only 1 month) I'm happy. I'll post again once the NFL season comes and I see how many games are actually on HD.


Brian Erst said...

James -

No way is that 100 hours of HD. It's 100 hours of digital (compressed) SD.

MPEG2-encoded SD typically requires about 1Gig/hour. HD takes 6-10 times as much room, depending on whether the initial input stream is bitstripped prior to compression (usually via MPEG2, but the newer sats are supposed to use MPEG4, which is more bit-efficient).

DirectTV is notorious for "HD-Lite", which is when you use rate-shaping or downsampling to bit-strip the incoming data stream prior to compression. 1080i HD takes about 19.2mbps to stream uncompressed, but people who look at the stream coming out of DirectTV are seeing about 10-12mps (this is after compensating for the MPEG compression). HD-Lite means you'll probably be looking at 15 hours of "HD" recording - the full HD would probably only allow 10 hours.


And yes, of course, HD Lite doesn't look as good. Lack of sharpness is the most benign side-effect - the worst is macro-blocking (you'll see chunks of similarly colored areas all use the same color - a jersey will look like it's a mosaic of little tiles). It's one reason (HD locals and my cable modem being the BIG reasons) that I stick with cable so far - my local Comcast service hasn't (yet) started mucking with the HD stream.

Even HD Lite is usually much better than any SD (unless it macro-blocks, in which case, you'll throw stuff at the TV), so congrats.

I'm a bit of an HD geek (three HD TVs, three HD DVRs). Once you switch to watching everything via DVR, you'll never go back. Especially, if they have a 30-second skip function - I never watch commercials anymore. Watching an entire night of TV takes two hours instead of three.

Hopefully, you got a multi-tuner DVR - watch a recorded program while recording two or more others is a godsend in a house where nobody likes the same show...

James V Reagan said...

Hey champ,

Always good to hear from you. I assumed it wasn't 100 hours of HD, but I wasn't able to find the size of the hard drive and the damn thing is pretty expensive, so I was thinking (hoping?) perhaps they stuck a 1TB hard drive in there.

Would be nice if I could pop an external hard drive on the DVR. That's my complaint about Directv's hardware - not upgradable, doesn't even do anything with an Internet connection (why wouldn't they?).

I do have the multi-channel capabilities. That is way cool - I did not have the same setup with my old Directv dish and man is it worth it.

I too like the 30s skip - timed perfectly for football. And we tend to record a lot of stuff and watch some of it at night or weekend. Great way to always have a library of kids shows on hand!

Directv is promising a lot of additional channels in 2007... we'll see if it comes through. And if they up the HD access charges when they do. I just forked over $99 for the NFL Sunday Ticket HD package.

Brian Erst said...

DirectTV claimed at the beginning of the year that it would have 100 "national" HD channels "in 2007", plus 1500 "local" HD channels.


So, you should eventually be getting a WHOLE lot more than the dozen or so that you're getting now. Being in Seattle, you should get the Seattle locals (ABC, CBS, NBC, FOX and the PBS national feed) in HD too (it's really unclear as to whether that's satellite provisioned or via an integrated off-air HD antenna).

Of course, I've seen zero indication that they're really on track to add another 70 or so HD feeds, so I'm guessing you'll be waiting until 2008 or so.

Comcast is claiming 400 by 2008, but so far, I've got about 20.

Enjoy the TV!